James Beard 'Better Burger Project'

James Beard 'Better Burger Project'

Charlotte Five

You can look at the James Beard Awards as “the Oscars of the food world.” For 25 years, the Awards have honored chefs, cookbook authors, food journalists and other industry professionals.

So what’s with a Charlotte chef never winning one of these awards?

“It’s a competitive field and Charlotte does not get enough day in, day out chatter that other markets do,” said Tim Buchanan, general manager at Dogwood Southern Table & Bar. “Most articles about Southern restaurants go to Charleston, Asheville.”

Durham and Atlanta, too. He said there’s a need to “consistently be pushing for more national attention in the media.”

Chef Blake Hartwick of Bonterra added, “You need to get food writers – like anything else, you have to have the right people come to the restaurant to promote and get the ball rolling.”

No matter at the moment. Hartwick and Buchanan’s restaurants are busy with the James Beard Foundation’s Better Burger Project. This contest is getting chefs across the nation to serve up “a delicious, healthier and more sustainable  burger” by adding chopped mushrooms to the ground meat.

Bonterra and Dogwood jumped on it.

Although patrons are encouraged to participate via social media through July 31, this is no burger-making duel between the two Charlotte establishments.

It’s a celebration of creativity.

“Any project that brings awareness to any kind of sustainability, we are on board with,” Buchanan said. Plus, it “gives our chefs something to put creative energy towards.”

Dogwood daytime chef Eric Litaker created this spectacle:


The twist: Finding a way to use the cultivated mushrooms in the burger mix. Litaker opted for slow-roasted mushrooms, creating a duxelles.

Patrons, consider pairing it with fries. 

“Our fries are killer,” Buchanan said.


Bonterra got involved with The Better Burger Project because the restaurant staff have already worked on a few projects with the James Beard Foundation, including a recent celebrity chef dinner.


The twist: Hartwick saw this project as an opportunity to tweak the lamb burger that is traditionally served at the bar and give it some table time in the dining room.

The best pairing, he said, is the house-cut French fries.

IMG_Chef_Blake_Bonterra._3_1_CE4IK2V1_L119108373
“It’s not necessarily our goal to try to get notoriety,” Hartwick said. “We’re more focused on getting new faces in the door and doing fundraisers.”
But that doesn’t mean a James Beard Award isn’t on the way to the Queen City.

“There are guys in town that are making waves,” Buchanan said. “I think it’s only a matter of time.”

Photos by Charlotte Observer.